Sep 18, 2016


The relationship between a sports team and a corporate sponsor might seem unique, but some factors are universal to any partnership. Give and take, good communication and mutual benefit are all familiar keystones. And, like any good match, both sides need to share enough in common that their bond develops naturally, but also have enough difference to benefit each other. Ultimately, it all comes down to chemistry.

“We have an amazing relationship with the CME people,” says Saracens CEO Heath Harvey, who just signed a new three-year sponsorship agreement with CME. “For some reason, we just click.”

When you look at a relationship like CME and Saracens FC, you might see the differences easily enough: One is a mercantile exchange, and the other is a rugby club.

CME’s logo rested prominently on Saracens’ jerseys as the team retained the 2015-16 Aviva Premiership title , in addition to winning the European Champions Cup — a benefit CME staffers could never have pulled off themselves… unless they were ready to brave the pitch. On the other hand, CME has been a key partner for Saracens’ global growth initiative, giving them solid footing in the United States and beyond. And when certain players have ventured into life beyond the field, CME has been integral in helping them develop skills for tackling the business world.

That’s all well and good, but where are the similarities? Certainly both teams have global reach, but the commonalities go even deeper than that. For example, both Saracens (founded in London, 1876) and CME (founded in Chicago, 1898) have deep histories in two of the most important financial cities in the world. But institutional history only matters when innovation is at the heart of a company’s DNA, and forward thinking is another common trait they share.

“Behind CME there are years of investment and a huge technological background, which is a reflection on how CME has modernized,” Harvey says, comparing that to his rugby franchise. “The world moves on and our game moves on; we’re incredibly proud of being a very progressive rugby club, which is evident at our training grounds where you’ll see drones flying over the players to see the angles of the lines that they’re running … so we use technology at the forefront of how the game is played today, and CME is very similar in that regard.”

That similarity has existed for more than century. In fact, CME is not one story but a master narrative about mercantile exchange reaching across the world. The company began at the end of the 19th century as the Chicago Butter and Egg Board, a spinoff of the Chicago Produce Exchange. Such exchanges, catalyzed by the massive production spike of the Industrial Revolution, brought order to what was essentially a frontier system.

“Organizations like the Butter and Cheese Exchange of New York, Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Produce Exchange,” CME’s history site explains, “[developed] to regulate trade and manage risk via public trading methods called ‘open outcry.’”

Open outcry, the frenzied floor of traders so iconic of modern commerce, turned what was an unruly, localized system into a well-organized and broadly expandable prospect.

Saracens has a similar story of innovation, guiding a rough-and-tumble sport played in private fields to a rough-and-tumble sport played before large crowds. After being founded in 1876 by the Old Boys of the Philological School in Marylebone, London, the club soon merged with the neighboring club, the Crusaders, to become a force in the city.

Moving to nine different fields over time, Saracens helped bring order and expandability to the game when they settled at Bramley Rd. in the 1940s. That field became the site of a legendary match in which Saracens tied a select International XV squad in front of more than 5,000 spectators.

Over the entirety of the 20th century, both CME and Saracens responded to the demands of the times, moving, rebranding, merging and increasingly professionalizing their fields while building for the future. The parallels are remarkable between the two, as wars, depressions and technological shifts continued to force both companies to reimagine themselves for future prosperity.

The later 2000s were another such moment. While CME merged with the Chicago Board of Trade in 2007, then the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2008, Saracens was bought in 2009 by an innovative consortium of South African investors led by Johann Rupert.

When the dust settled, both brands had the same idea: Go global. As CME capitalized on an increasingly networked world to create CME Globex, Saracens saw the opportunity to expand its name around the world by becoming an ambassador for the sport, creating the Saracens Global Network.

Harvey agrees all of this innovation, technology and growth is impressively similar. But in rugby, as in business, winning is grounded in having the best people.

“We haven’t gotten to where we are as a club, in terms of our level of performance, because of how we’ve used technology — we’ve gotten here through quality people,” Harvey says. “The same can be said for CME Group; employing the best people and looking after them well is what makes CME a world class business.”

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